SAN DIEGO - President Obama has reportedly embraced a controversial 9/11 theory with San Diego ties, as he prepares to release his policy on the NSA surveillance of the phone calls of millions of Americans.
Obama is expected to make that announcement on Friday. It now appears he will keep much of the program in place and he may point to San Diego to make his case.
Khalid al-Mihdhar was one of five hijackers on the plane that flew into the Pentagon.
In January 2000, after al-Mihdhar and another hijacker arrived in San Diego – renting an apartment in Clairemont – al-Mihdhar made several phone calls to a safe house in Yemen. The two took flying lessons at Montgomery Field.
The theory now embraced by Obama, according to the Los Angeles Times: NSA surveillance, including the tracking of numbers linked to terrorist phone numbers, could have stopped the attacks.
Daryl Thibault, who worked in the CIA for 25 years, with experience in counterterrorism, says the theory goes like this.
"They would have immediately investigated that number and would have learned enough about that individual and the other activities he was engaged in to have probably tumbled onto the plot," said Thibault.
Critics of the theory cite the 9/11 Commission findings. Both the NSA and CIA had come across al-Mihdhar's name before and never shared the information with the FBI.
Recently, a presidential task force concluded last month that the NSA program "was not essential" to preventing terrorist attacks.
Thibault says it depends on how you define "essential."
"It's certainly a source for new leads, if you will. I think that's its prime value," said Thibault.
According to several media reports, Obama is expected to continue the surveillance program with only modest reforms and he could use the San Diego case as his main justification.